Skip to content

Predator modelling applied to study of COVID-19 health equity

The COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive of many science activities over the past 2 years. Fieldwork, conferences, hui, workshops – much work has had to be rescheduled or moved online. However, scientists are lateral thinkers. The pandemic has also brought new and wide-ranging opportunities to apply knowledge in different ways.

Our social researchers have adapted their understanding of decision-making in environmental management to predict likely compliance with public health directives, and our economists have assessed the impacts on businesses of government policies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Government policy often requires people to think and act differently, but achieving meaningful behaviour change in practice is difficult. In several recent pieces of work to understand compliance with health measures during COVID-19, Dr Geoff Kaine and other social scientists at Manaaki Whenua have undertaken surveys of the public and applied the findings using the i3 compliance framework. i3 is a tool that analyses how strongly people are involved with, or care about, policy outcomes and related policy measures such as regulations, to predict whether they will comply with the measures.

It also measures what they believe about policy outcomes and policy measures. The involvement component of the i3 framework shows whether someone is willing, or not, to do something (for example, get vaccinated), and the belief component explains why they are willing, or not. The researchers have applied i3 to several different aspects of people’s behaviour in reaction to public health measures: willingness to be vaccinated, compliance with mask wearing, use of the contact tracing app, willingness to be tested for COVID-19, and self-isolation.

The finding that people’s willingness, for instance to be vaccinated, depends on involvement (motivation) as well as attitude has implications for the design of policy measures, for instance to promote high vaccination rates. It is important to distinguish between those with a lack of interest in getting vaccinated and those who strongly oppose it and therefore deliberately choose not to be vaccinated, and to tailor incentive and enforcement strategies appropriately.

The findings of each survey also have important implications for the design of promotional programmes intended to encourage the participation of the community in mass vaccination programmes. The findings also highlight the difficulty of communicating effectively through mass media with those who have little interest (low involvement) in preventing the spread of COVID-19.